Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Hacking Your Way To NASA

[Steve] drives spacecraft for a living. As an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he’s guided probes to comets, asteroids, Mars, and Jupiter, figured out what happens when telemetry from these probes starts looking weird, and fills the role of the Space Hippy whenever NASA needs some unofficial PR.

Like most people who are impossibly cool, [Steve]‘s career isn’t something he actively pursued since childhood. Rather, it’s something that fell in his lap. With qualifications like building a robotic computer to typewriter interface, a custom in-car navigation system in the late 80s, and a lot of work with an Amiga, we can see where [Steve] got his skills.

The earliest ‘hack’ [Steve] can remember was just that – an ugly, poorly welded sidecar for his bicycle made in his early teens. From there, he graduated to Lasertag landmines, Tesla coils, and building camera rigs, including a little bit of work on Octopussy, and a rig for a Miata. It helps when your dad is a cinematographer, it seems.

In college, [Steve] used his experience with 6502 assembler to create one of the first computerized lighting controllers (pre-DMX). After reading a biography on [Buzz Aldrin], [Steve] realized doing his thesis on orbital rendezvous would at least be interesting, if not an exceptionally good way to get the attention of NASA.

Around this time, [Steve] ran into an engineering firm that was developing, ‘something like Mathematica’ for the Apple II, and knowing 6502 assembly got him in the door. This company was also working to get the GPS constellation up and running, and [Steve]‘s thesis on orbital mechanics eventually got him a job at JPL.

There’s several lifetimes worth of hacks and builds [Steve] went over at the end of his talk. The highlights include a C64 navigation system for a VW bug, a water drop high voltage machine, and a video editing system built from a few optical encoders. This experience with hacking and modding has served him well at work, too: when the star sensor for Deep Space 1 failed, [Steve] and his coworkers used the science camera as a stand in navigation aid.

One final note: Yes, I asked [Steve] if he played Kerbal Space Program. He’s heard of it, but hasn’t spent much time in it. He was impressed with it, though, and we’ll get a video of him flying around the Jool system eventually.

Ask Hackaday: Floating To Space

floating into space book cover

On a cool September morning just west of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, a group of MIT students launched a low-budget high altitude project that would go on to gain global attention. They revealed to the world that with a small weather balloon, a hacked camera, cheap GPS phone and a little luck, you could get pictures that rival those from the Space Shuttle. Their project set forth a torrent of hackers, students, kids and parents the world over trying to copy their success. Many succeeded. Others did not.

At 100,000 feet or about 20 miles up, it’s a brisk 60 degrees below zero. The atmosphere at this height is but a fraction of its density at sea level. Solar radiation rains down like a summer squall, and the view is just short of breathtaking. It seems so agonizingly close to space that you could just reach out and touch it. That one could almost float right on up into orbit.

Sound impossible? Think again. A little known volunteer based company operating out of California is trying to do just this.

[Read more...]

[Tom Sachs] Builds His Own Space Program

sachslunarcapsuleinterior

Born in the mid 60’s, [Tom Sachs] has always been fascinated with space, especially the Apollo program. Just like every kid of his generation, [Tom] imagined himself in Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s boots, gazing over the lunar surface. He never gave up that dream, and years later as a successful modern artist, he built his own space program.

[Tom Sachs] is a master of bricolage . Taken from the French word for tinkering, Wikipedia defines bricolage as “… the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process.”  The term could also describe the junkbox procurement methods we use on many of our own projects.

sachs-lunar-landerBoth [Tom's] 2007 lunar program and his 2012 Mars program featured his astonishing lunar lander. Built from plywood, found items, and junk, the lander literally made us do a double take the first time we saw it. The attention to detail is incredible. At first glance one could mistake this for a simulator built by NASA themselves. After a few seconds the custom touches start to jump out, such as a “Thank You” garbage door from a fast food restaurant, or a bar stocked with tequila and vodka. The lander’s tools are not just for show either, as the gallery opens with a simulated space mission, which could best be described as a mix of art, improv, and an epic game of make-believe for adults.

[Tom's] installations also include mission control, which in his Mars piece consisted of a dizzying array of screens, controls and an 80’s boombox. Dressed in the white shirt, thin tie, and horn rimmed glasses we’ve come to associate with NASA engineers of the 60’s, this is where [Tom] works. He truly is the engineer of this mission.

Editor’s Note [Tom] and the entire hacker community at large have a chance to go to space by entering The Hackaday Prize!

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Hackaday Space: Final Transmission Minecraft Puzzles Explained

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This is the last part in our round up of the ARG that we ran throughout April. Just in case you’ve had your head buried in a hole this last week, it was a month-long series of puzzles that lead up to the announcement of the frankly awesome Hackaday Prize. During the week we’ve covered Transmissions 1, 2 and 3 detailing how we put the puzzles together and the things that went wrong. For the final stage we wanted something a bit different. Throughout the ARG we had been inspired by the book Ready Player One, so in this stage we wanted a high score table that people could compete over.

Since we’d managed to get reasonably far ahead of ourselves during Transmission 3 we had just over a week to plan this round. We pitched some ideas around the office for video games we could make with high score tables. None of these really stuck and we soon realized we didn’t have the resources to get the graphic design work done for most games. Someone suggested that we try making a MUD themed around a space port with rescue for Major Tom being the last stage. This seemed like a great idea at first and I began work on it using the RanvierMUD framework. It soon became clear however that writing all the text for a full featured MUD is actually a massive endeavor and I frankly am not that great of a writer.

Learn the secrets and watch a video tour of the Minecraft world below.

[Read more...]

Sending Open-Source Satellites to Space

An anonymous reader tipped us about two Argentinian satellites (satellite one, satellite two) that were sent in 2013 to space. What is interesting about them? They are both based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, and the team released the framework & flight computer software for their main platform (named cubesat, GitHub link). Gunter’s space page not only impresses us by showing the quantity of small/amateur satellites sent each month to space, but also lets us know that the hardware source files for CudeBug 1/2 are meant to be released. In the meantime we can only gather that they’re using a Texas Instruments TMS570 running FreeRTOS. Nevertheless, the two different web pages (in spanish and english) offer us a very interesting glimpse of what it takes to send an electronic project to space and how it later behaves.

You may also be interested in checking out ArduSat, a successful kickstarter campaign aimed at sending Arduino experiments in space.

ISEE-3 Dream Team Needs Your Help

ISEE-3 Moon flyby

The mission to save ISEE-3 has is underway. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project has posted a crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub. When we first covered the ISEE-3 story no one had heard from it since 2008. Since then AMSAT-DL, an amateur radio group in Germany has received signals from the probe.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is being managed by [Dennis Wingo] and [Keith Cowing], the same two men who spearheaded the effort to recover NASA’s Lunar Orbiter images from old magnetic tapes. They did most of their work using restored 1960’s equipment in a vacant McDonald’s.

The goal of the ISEE Reboot Project is to return ISEE-3 to its original Earth/Sun Lagrange point L1 orbit. Once safely back in orbit, it will be used for STEM education, amateur radio solar predictions, and for science about the sun. In [Dennis Wingo's] own words

If we can do this, we will have an open source, publicly accessible satellite data stream of the first open source satellite above Low Earth Orbit.

[Wingo] and [Cowing] aren’t alone in this effort; they are working with a venerable dream team. In addition to getting the nod from NASA, the team also has the help of [Dr. Robert Farquhar], the orbital dynamics guru who originally designed ISEE-3’s comet intercept orbit . [Farquhar] has an extremely personal reason to participate in this project. In 1982 he “borrowed” the satellite to go comet hunting. Once that mission was complete, he promised to give ISEE-3 back. [Dr. Farquhar] and his team designed the maneuvers required to bring ISEE-3 back to L1 orbit back in the 1980’s. This includes a breathtaking moon flyby at an altitude of less than 50 km. Seriously, we want to see this guy’s KSP missions.

Communicating with the ISEE-3 is going to take some serious power and antenna gain. The project has this in the form of a 21 meter dish at Moorehead State University in Kentucky, USA, and the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo should be well-known to our readers by now. Moorehead and Arecibo have both received signals from ISEE-3. The reboot project team is also working directly with the AMSAT-DL team in Germany.

If this effort seems a bit rushed, that’s because time is very short. To implement [Dr. Farquhar's] plan, ISEE-3 must fire its thrusters by late June 2014. In just two months the team needs to create software to implement ISEE-3’s communications protocols, obtain and install transmitters at Moorehead and Aricibo, and send some basic commands to the craft. Only then can they begin to ascertain ISEE-3’s overall health in preparation for a thruster burn.

If  the ISEE-3 Reboot Project succeeds, we’ll have an accessible satellite well outside of low Earth orbit. If it fails, Issac Newton will remain at the helm. ISEE-3 will fly right past Earth, not to be seen again until August 2029.

[Read more...]

The Hackaday Prize: You Build Open Hardware, We Send You to Space

 

For weeks we’ve been teasing you that something BIG was coming. This is it. Six months from now one hardware hacker will claim The Hackaday Prize and in doing so, secure the grand prize of a trip into space.

You have the skills, the technology, and the tenacity to win this. Even if you don’t take the top spot there’s loot in it for more than one winner. To further entice you, there are eyebrow-raising prizes for all five of the top finishers, and hundreds of other rewards for those that build something impressive. You can win this… you just need to take the leap and give it your all.

[Read more...]

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